Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD | bio

Taking care of my mother’s health has always been a big priority for me. She is almost 89 and still lives independently.

Four years ago, she suffered a major stroke. The stroke occurred in the part of the brain that controls emotions and impulsivity, along with other non-left brain functions. We were lucky that her cognitive function and speech were barely impaired. However, we’ve finally learned what she really had been thinking all this time. About us. About everything.

She came back to New York for post stroke rehabilitation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She did this work like she always did everything, doggedly, determinedly and successfully. Two years ago she wrote her memoir and began to paint again.

Her birthday is May 6. She will be 89. She is unhappy with me that I am not flying down for the annual Mother’s Day Mother-Daughter luncheon at her church this week on Thursday. She knows that Thursdays are my busiest days and that I am flying home on Friday night, but that stroke has given her permission to let me know that she will have to “adopt” a daughter, YET AGAIN, for her luncheon.

I know so many women whose lives have been affected by the trajectory of their mother’s health, early death, or severe impairments. I am deeply grateful for the blessing of mother’s long life and her great attitude and capacity to adapt to life’s changing circumstances.

My sisters live in our hometown and are there on the ground to provide oversight and familial comfort. Their intelligent and compassionate care gives their siblings who live away more than they can ever know. I add a driver and household support and for now it all works.

My brothers adore and understand my mother. Each of them adds significantly to her life. We are lucky to be at this stage in our lives, to love each other and work together to add to mother’s joy and safety with harmony and no acrimony.

Mother lived with me in New York City for 16 years. She made my professional life possible and gave my sons that small town multi-generational life that so many urban children never know. Mother did the best play dates with baking and painting and stories from the South. She was the hands on mother. I was a great Auntie Mame. We were, even if I say so immodestly, a marvelous team.

Now, when she comes to town, she always visits her favorite doctor, “that tall good looking boy who fixed my heart.” Back in 2001, she had a heart valve replacement in at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where I am affiliated. Before the days of penicillin, she suffered from rheumatic fever that left her with a damaged mitral valve. I had monitored her very carefully over the years with annual echo-cardiograms and stress tests under the guidance of her careful cardiologist.

Just before her surgery that spring, we were moving from a very large house that worked for three adults and four children. We were downsizing since mother was now a guest for only a month at a time and my two sons were moving out and on with their adult lives.

Downsizing is never easy, unless you have my mother, Miss Edna, to run the show.

“Patty, you know there will be no place to put this, and you don’t use it/like it/wear it,” began every sentence. She downsized me pretty quickly. I thought it would take at least two weeks to weed through everything and set aside piles for charities and children. In less than a week, it was done.

But something wasn’t right. I came home one night after my mother’s first week in charge of the “crew who moved like they had all day to get this done,” to hear her coughing as she climbed the center hall stairs. She had sorted, organized and packed hundreds of books that day.

“Why are you coughing like that?” I asked. It didn’t sound like any sound she had made before.

“Oh Patty, it is just the dust from these books.  Don’t you ever vacuum them?”

I sat her down, took a real history, listened to her heart and lungs and realized that she was developing early congestive heart failure. She saw her cardiologist the next day. Her mitral valve finally had to be replaced after working valiantly for 82 years.

My mother was operated on one month later. She refused surgery until we completed the house move, her two grandsons had marched down their respective graduation aisles, and she had celebrated her birthday with family and friends.

She adored her cardiac surgeon and had no fear of the surgery. He arrived in the operating room after his usual morning run of six miles, ready and focused. I was there to hold her hand when she went to sleep.

Three hours later, she was in the cardiac ICU. She did everything the staff asked, and I helped out with the tricks. I arrived at 5 a.m. on the first morning after surgery. I fluffed her hair and applied foundation, a bit of blush and lipstick.

The team arrived along with the chief surgeon at 5:30 am. The boys were so very impressed with her appearance; they assumed it was just their brilliant surgical technique. Oh well. I believe that if you look good, you are more likely to feel good too. She could tell that the boys were quite taken with her post operative appearance.

“Well, Miss Edna,” her surgeon said, “if the rest of your recovery is this spectacular, you will be out of her in no time.”

Soon her condition was upgraded, and she moved onto the general post-op cardiac surgical unit. She had an arrhythmia, she needed a pacemaker, and she would be on blood thinners and a mild blood pressure drug for the rest of her life. But her heart was still healthy. Her symptoms, discovered during the downsizing, were caught just at the right time. She was discharged even earlier than the insurance company expected.

There was only one post-operative hitch. My mother, who never made a meal for us without including some pork product, had received — with no irony intended — a PIG valve.  She was incensed. “How could this happen, that my heart is working with a pig part in it?”

After her return to the family home in Kentucky, my mother made a quilt for her surgeon. She made me deliver it to him personally, with the message that people in Kentucky don’t like to sleep under store-bought comforters and duvets. Only handmade quilts are guaranteed to bring sweet dreams.

Mother recently gave my youngest son his last Gamma-made quilt just this spring. She is now hard at work on a baby quilt for the not yet-conceived children that she knows her New York grandsons will have. She knows she might not be here to see those great grand babies, but she wants them to have her special sweet dreams too.

And a postscript from all of us at Women’s Voices for Change; Happy Birthday, and Happy Mother’s Day, dear Miss Edna.

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